Vocabulary in The Gift of the Magi
Meretricious means aesthetically attractive, but containing no actual value. In this case, Della hopes that the watch will be valuable because of its sensible use, not its flashiness. This is also a piece of dramatic irony. The love between the couple is far more valuable to both of them than any material goods. Therefore the idea of purchasing a material gift in the hope that it will make Jim happy is itself “meretricious ornamentation.”
The mendicancy squad were police forces who arrested homeless people and beggars. This phrase tells the reader that the conditions this couple are living in are near the poverty level.